From the September 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Media Star

Dan Deighan wanted to be an athletic director, but now acts as a financial coach to his clients, and to television audiences

When watching the business news channels on cable television many advisors seeing an "expert" pontificating about the latest financial crisis are likely to think, "I know more than that guy. They should be asking me those questions!" Rather than just thinking that to himself, Dan Deighan decided to be that guy.

For the last year, the founder and CEO of Deighan Financial Advisors in Melbourne, Florida, made it a goal to be on programs like "Squawkbox" on CNBC or "Fox Business Live" at least once a month. He's been pretty successful at it, but it didn't just happen. He hired a public relations firm to help get his name out to the media and he makes sure he's prepared to talk intelligently about whatever financial-related topic is on the interviewer's mind. He comes to New York on a regular basis and the day before his scheduled appearance holes up in a hotel room with all the latest newspapers and magazines, with the television tuned to the network on which he's scheduled to appear, and with a laptop for Internet research. Deighan has found that being a well-prepared guest is one of the things that can get you asked back time and again, as are personal touches like bringing a tie that the interviewer admired as a gift on your next visit.

Moreover, Deighan isn't content to focus only on electronic media; he's been quoted in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and BusinessWeek and has written articles on investing for the physicians who make up the audience of Medical Economics magazine.

Although building an extensive base of knowledge and staying current on the latest developments to maintain that expertise is time-consuming, Deighan stresses that his efforts are never to the detriment of his clients. He says that seeing him interviewed on television helps increase clients' confidence in him, while they also benefit from all the studying he's done. While he may travel quite a bit, there are four financial planning teams back in the home office to take care of clients' day-to-day needs and he's always available by phone or e-mail.

One of the reasons that Deighan has been able to manage his business the way he does is that, unlike many entrepreneurs, he's not afraid to delegate responsibility. "I just don't have the time to be managing things that shouldn't have to be managed," he says. "I have very high expectations, but I also give people the authority to meet those responsibilities. I do not allow reverse delegation. Do not give it back to me. You can come back to me and ask me questions, but you need to tell me where you are, give me a little bit of an idea of how you got there, and then you tell me what you think you should do and why you think you should do that. Don't come to me and say 'I've got this problem,' and plop it on the table for me."

A Different Kind of Coach

Looking at his background, it's probably not surprising that Deighan has such a penchant for study. He founded Deighan Financial Advisors in 1974 while still an undergraduate at the University of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, and moved the business to Florida after graduation.

As an undergraduate Deighan had the opportunity through one of his classes to intern with a life insurance company which entailed getting a license and developing his own client base. At that point he thought the insurance business was just a good way to make some money in his spare time and that when he graduated he would pursue his original career goals. Having been a middle- and long-distance runner in high school and at the start of college, he planned on becoming a high school track and cross-country coach and athletic director.

Making sales came relatively easy and Deighan was surprised at just how much he really enjoyed the whole process. Then there was the salary discrepancy. "I was already making as much money in my insurance business as the superintendent of the Kalamazoo County public schools," Deighan recalls of his undergraduate days.

Deighan points out that when he started in the business there were very distinct lines between the purveyors of different financial services--life insurance agents sold life insurance, property and casualty agents sold P&C insurance, stock brokers and bond traders sold stocks and bonds, mutual fund salespeople sold mutual funds, banks made loans and issued CDs. It was all pretty simple.

Although his niche was selling life insurance, Deighan says he would ask clients about their entire financial life including trusts, wills, and their various accounts and investments. He would then put together a detailed report for the client which in turn often prompted questions about annuities, or mutual funds, or stocks that the client might own. "I didn't really know that much about these other things initially," he recalls. "But even if I didn't know the answer, I knew the questions to ask to get more information, which indicated to them that I knew more about it than they did. And then I did my research."

While he ultimately chose a different career path than the one he had in mind when he entered college, Deighan says that in a lot of ways, it's very similar. He describes his business model as one of teaching and coaching people about their financial affairs. (Deighan does also coach high school and college runners on a volunteer basis.) "It's worked really, really well for us," he says, preferring to use the plural rather than the singular in discussing his business. "The vast majority of our new clients come from introductions from existing clients and I would say that the most frequent remark that we get from people is that, 'I've never had anybody explain this that way to me before.'"

Although he started as a one-man shop, Deighan's practice has grown to include 13 employees, including a full-time driver, which Deighan says frees him up to be working all the time, between 200 and 250 clients, and an estimated $145 million in assets under management. In addition to his RIA, Deighan Financial Advisors, his operation includes his own broker/dealer--Boogie Investment Group, drawing its title from his daughter Brooke's nickname.

His clients tend to be either retired individuals or those who have "gotten to the point in life where they're seriously starting to think about retirement.

"We're very, very selective about the clients that we take," he says. I watch very closely the personality. I watch the interaction between the spouses. I watch how they respond when I ask them questions about their kids and their grandkids. And they have to have a certain level of wealth. We don't do magic. You've got to have some money. You've got to have something going on for us to work with."

That something is generally $250,000 or more in assets that can be invested right now.

The FLIP Side

When working with clients Deighan helps plan not only for their own retirement but also for what they'll leave behind after they're gone. In addition to a package of services that includes investment advice and management, financial planning, tax planning, and insurance, he offers Family Legacy Investment Planning (FLIP) workshops. The workshops are open to clients and prospects and in words describing the service on his Web site, aim to provide "the emotional and intellectual foundation to connect family values to family financial assets...The more financially informed and educated families become the more they are able to enjoy, protect, preserve, pass on, receive and maintain a financial and family legacy for multiple generations."

"When we're constructing portfolios, the first thing that we want to make sure of is that they have enough liquid assets," Deighan explains of his approach to planning. "I don't mean liquid assets that are at risk. Stocks and bonds oftentimes are referred to as liquid assets because you can liquefy them in three to five business days. I don't want an asset that I think is liquid that's worth $500,000 and a week from now when I need to liquidate it, it's worth $300,000. So we're talking about cash equivalents--money market accounts, CDs, Treasuries. We really want to make sure that the client has enough cash so that they feel comfortable.

"The second thing that we have to have is income," he continues. This is where the investment offerings come into play. Deighan tends to recommend private equity deals including real estate investments which he says can provide income in the form of rent and has historically provided appreciation. "If they want cash positions, if they want mutual fund positions, if they want annuity positions, we'll work with them on that, but that's not our recommendation," he says. "If they want that we will introduce them to someone who manages those types of things and we will manage that manager on their behalf."

More than three decades after he kicked off his financial services career, Deighan still has the same can-do attitude that he had as a 19-year-old. "I'm a one-day-at-a-time kind of guy and I was just trying to take business one day at a time, to take care of the person sitting right in front of me and do what was right by them and by doing that, the business just grew," he says.

Sounds like a pretty good business plan.

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